Historic 1792 Half Disme Results in Record Sale
Earlier this year, a 1792 Half Disme sold for a record $1.41 million dollars at Heritage Auctions’ U.S. Coin Florida United Numismatists (FUN) Signature Auction. The historic coin is generally recognized as the first circulating American coin struck under authority of the Mint Act of April 1792.
The 1792 Half Disme is as rare as it is misunderstood. As noted by Heritage Auctions, the history of the coin is detailed in a brief memorandum, of which three conflicting versions exist. The third copy of memo, which was discovered in 1995, revealed that it was written by John A. McAllister, Jr. who wrote:
“Description of Half Dismes coined in 1792 —
“On one side = a Head = 1792 = Lib. Par. of Science and Industry —
“On the other side = an Eagle Flying = Half Disme = United States of America —
“In a conversation with Mr. Adam Eckfeldt (Apr. 9, 1844) at the Mint, he informed me that the Half Dismes above described, were struck, expressly for Gen. Washington, to the extent of One Hundred Dollars, which sum he deposited in Bullion or Coin, for the purpose. Mr. E. thinks that Gen. W. distributed them as presents. Some were sent to Europe, but the greater number, he believes, were given to friends of Gen. W. in Virginia. No more of them were ever coined. They were never designed as Currency. The Mint was not, at the time, fully ready for being put into operation. The Coining Machinery was in the cellar of Mr. Harper, a saw maker, at the corner of Cherry and 6th St, at which place these pieces were struck.”
More on the 1792 Half Disme
An article written by Carl Herkowitz and Joel J. Orosz, entitled “George Washington and America’s ‘Small Beginning’ in Coinage: The Fabled 1792 Half Dismes,” revealed additional historical facts about the coin and also clarified several long-standing misconceptions. For instance, the authors confirmed that Martha Washington likely did not pose as “Miss Liberty” for the engraver, and that the Washington’s did not provide their own family table service for the coinage.
Approximately 250 to 400 1792 half dismes still exist. Of those, the recently sold coin from the Floyd Starr collection is widely regarded as the finest specimen known. It is certified by PCGS as a Specimen strike, the only such coin given this designation. As described by the consignor who sold the coin in 2006:
“This specimen striking of the 1792 silver half disme is truly a coin that transcends numismatics. It occupies a place in our Nation’s history unequaled by any other coin. For centuries, the coinage of silver was a royal prerogative. For a young nation, the coining of these half dismes was of enormous political significance and an expression of national sovereignty understood around the world.”